Ufouria: Bring Back Freeon-Leon

A look through this site reveals that I enjoy going on and on about minor concerns. Yet I assure you that this entry involves no trivial complaints over logos or labels or Zed Blade. This is serious. I’m here to talk about the upcoming Ufouria: The Saga 2 and how it seems to ignore my favorite part of the original game.

Sunsoft’s Ufouria: The Saga is a delight from the last years of the NES empire. It’s a sprawling adventure with four payable characters, solid side-scrolling mechanics, and a vast world to explore in backtracking Metroid fashion. Propelled by charming graphics and one of those marvelous Naoki Kadoka soundtracks, it’s altogether enjoyable even in the face of modern games that expertly evoke NES aesthetics and offer larger quests. It even accomplishes a rare feat for a maze-driven game: losing dumps you back at the very beginning, but thanks to Ufouria’s breezy pace and clever layout, I never really minded that setback. 

Like a lot of impressive late-period NES games, Ufouria wasn’t justly appreciated in its time. It was released in Japan and Europe with little traction, and the North American version was canceled outright (though the Wii’s Virtual Console brought it there in 2010). In Japan the characters continued on in their Hebereke series, though this was primarily in puzzle and sports titles, never returning to the adventurous tones of Ufouria.

Ufouria stars four goofy creatures in a quest to escape a strange alien world, including the protagonist Bop-Louie, the sure-footed Freeon-Leon*, the spectral Shades, and the aquatic Gil. As was frequently the case in this era, changes were made to the original Japanese game’s cast. Shades and Gil merely had their names changed (from Sukezaemon and Jennifer, amusingly enough) but Bop-Louie and Freeon-Leon also look different from their Hebereke counterparts. Hebe is a penguin while Bop-Louie is an alien-eyed snowman. O-Chan appears to be a person in a cat suit, but Freeon-Leon is a big-eyed dinosaur with a single horn.

Freeon-Leon instantly became my favorite of the bunch. In NES games with regional changes I often lean toward the Japanese releases and their cuter designs, but that’s not the case with Ufouria. For one thing, I like Bop-Louie’s unique extraterrestrial Frosty design over Hebe’s precious but fairly pedestrian penguin form. 

And while there’s nothing wrong with O-Chan, I find Freeon-Leon just about perfect. I love how he waddles around with an expression of utterly stupefied wonder. I love how the character selection screen has him making a panicked faced when you select him. And I love how his look of neutral awe changes to a confident smirk when he stomps enemies or a determined glare when he swims across a watery surface.

This brings me to Ufouria 2, Sunsoft’s upcoming sequel to the original game. Its plush-toy look is enticing and the gameplay appears to expand a good deal on its predecessor’s sound ground, but everything shown of it features the original Hebereke characters. There’s no beady-eyed Bop Louie and, worse yet, no unidinosaur Freeon-Leon. Like its Sunsoft contemporary Mr. Gimmick, Ufouria has characters clearly designed for more than just games. They were potential mascots for company logos, cameos, and prize crane machines. It’s a shame that any of them should be ignored.

Ufouria has perhaps only a cult following outside of Japan, of course, and there’s a much greater history to the Hebereke series. Yet I’ll miss Freeon-Leon. I’m not suggesting that Sunsoft delay the game to add optional characters for the sake of just one nutty Freeon-Leon fan, but perhaps we’d see some DLC if, say, several thousand Freeon-Leon fans took up the cause. That’s a hint. 

To turn this more realistic, I hope that Ufouria 2 will include the original game as a bonus in both its Japanese and European/American iterations. With the Wii U and 3DS shops closed to new purchases, there’s no place for newcomers to legally acquire the first Ufouria right now. I think it’s terribly unfair to deny modern civilization easy and honorable access to Freeon-Leon and all he embodies. 

*Ufouria’s in-game text spells his name “Freeon-Leeon” when he’s introduced, but the manual spells it “Freeon-Leon” and that seems to be the more popular interpretation anyway.

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